PPP rules out alliance with Pakistan president’s party


Islamabad : The party of assassinated Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto Wednesday ruled out a coalition with embattled President Pervez Musharraf but would invite all other political groups into a unity government, its new leader said.

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Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s husband and co-chairman of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which won Monday’s parliamentary elections, told an evening press conference that the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Musharraf’s political backers, had been discarded by voters who swept the opposition into power.

“I’ve been saying this from day one that the Q-League does not exist. The election results have proven that it does not exist,” Zardari said, calling the ex-ruling party by its nickname.

“It was artificially created for backing a dictator, and the public has now wiped it out,” he added.

Official results from 262 of 272 contested National Assembly seats showed Bhutto’s party won 87 seats, followed by fellow opposition leader Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 67 seats, and the PML-Q a dismal third with 40 seats.

The election was viewed as a referendum on the rule of Musharraf.

He seized power in a 1999 coup, but his popularity plummeted in November 2007 after he invoked emergency measures and suspended the constitution to prevent the Supreme Court from annulling his controversial re-election the previous month.

The poll outcome has further weakened his grip on power, with some analysts speculating that he will be forced aside in a matter of months by a hostile civilian parliament or shown the door by his former army subordinates.

Zardari alluded as much to journalists: “The parliament will decide with which president it will function and with which one it will not.”

But Zardari apparently backtracked on calls Tuesday for Musharraf to immediately resign, saying he would meet Sharif Thursday to discuss coalition options. He said that several small, regional parties would also be invited to join.

Zardari, who took over the party after Bhutto was killed in a gun and suicide bomb attack Dec 27, said he would not stand for prime minister, but added that the PPP would appoint the incoming government leader.

“The agenda is always politics,” he said of his scheduled meeting with Sharif. “We will find solutions to the problems of Pakistan.”

In return for Sharif’s support in forming a national government, the PPP could ensure he controls the government in Punjab province, the country’s most important region, where the PML-N emerged as the biggest winner.

The possibility of a PPP-PML-N government could be fatal for Musharraf, whose powers are already diminished since he was compelled to resign as army chief, leaving his presidency as little more than ceremonial. Musharraf overthrew Sharif in a bloodless coup in 1999 and the two men are bitter political enemies.

In his first official comments since the elections, Musharraf Wednesday called for a harmonious new government, according to a Foreign Ministry statement.

“Highlighting the importance of the Feb 18 elections, the president emphasized the need for harmonious coalition in the interest of peaceful governance, development and progress of Pakistan,” he told US Congressman Elton Gallegly who called on him at his residence in Rawalpindi.

“The elections have strengthened the moderate forces in the country,” he said, according to the statement.

A potential Zardari-Sharif alliance is also problematic as both have conflicting views on certain issues, and the PML-N leader was a bitter enemy of Bhutto during the 1990s.

Sharif is demanding that former Supreme Court chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and around 60 other judges, who were sacked Nov 3 when Musharraf imposed emergency rule, be reinstated, after which they could rule on the legality of the president’s controversial re-election.

Such a move would bring the new government in direct confrontation with Musharraf at a time when Pakistan is suffering from rising food and fuel prices and growing Islamic militancy along its border with Afghanistan.

On the other hand, analyst say the PPP wants political stability first and can then move slowly to sideline Musharraf.